Archive for the ‘Memories’ Category
In the aftermath, a long time ago now, at the Giant Polaroid studio on the Lower East Side, Harry Davis, a firefighter with Squad 18, got up on the podium, closed his eyes and cradled his axe like it was a newborn.
It remains a favorite photo, from a difficult time. Today, all over the city and elsewhere, there will be pause. I will stop by Ladder 9/Engine 33, as I always do, and stand to the side as they ring the bells. I remain honored to have met these amazing people, and to have made a few pictures. Because pictures help us remember.
A bright light just went out. Robin Williams could speak faster than most of us can think. And when he spoke (often in tongues) we laughed, long, hard and well.
Only photographed him once. Typical of his irreverent whimsy, he walked onstage to rehearse wearing a “Forty F%&*$#&G Niners” t-shirt, and dared the assembled photogs to take his picture and put that in your “family f%$*(**&^%g newspaper.” Had to bring my timing to get a publishable snap.
We were all lucky to get anything sharp. He kept it lively, doing his routine, and riffing here and there. His pinball wizard brain kept us anywhere from chuckling to outright howling. I know I missed a bunch of pics just standing there, slack jawed at the pace of it, camera in my hands and not to my eye, giggling like an idiot. Old style chrome, EPT pushed one stop. Radio City Music Hall, 1982. Long time ago, and lots of laughter since then.
Thank you….Godspeed…..more tk…..
Heading west, New York to San Francisco today, back to work. The persistent, angry wasp of my Iphone at 4am assured me that my vacation was, indeed, over.
No complaints, though. Had a great break. Went to Hawaii, had time with Annie, swam in the Pacific, and stared into middle distance quite often. It was peaceful, and quite wonderful. It was the type of vacation….my dad never had.
We did things like drive from our home near Chicago to a place called Bliss Musky Lodge, in Wisconsin, and check into a cabin by a lake. It was one of those places a travel brochure would try to throw a gloss on by calling it “pleasantly rustic.” I recall it had indoor plumbing.
I was maybe three or four, in the embrace of the exuberance of youth, and its concomitant lack of caution. I was on the dock, calling to my mom, who was stridently urging me to be careful. This exchange was conducted while I was looking at her on the shore, walking backwards—off the dock.
I hit the water and began to drown. My beloved sisters, both older, charged down the dock to help. Kathy, who had longer arms, got to me first and in her desperation to save me, she pulled me up rapidly, and banged my head into the bottom of the dock and dropped me back in the water. Not her fault of course. She was just trying to help. Given my pain in the ass status of being a baby brother, I’m sincerely grateful to both of them that they didn’t just throw me an anchor and sing loudly to muffle my cries for help.
My long suffering dad had just settled into a lawn chair with the sports section, a beer and a cigarette, which meant he was ascending rapidly into his version of heaven, and most likely about to close his auditory portal to anything resembling the pitch of my mother’s voice, when the splashing and the shouting ensued.
He had been in the Navy, and was a good swimmer. His specialty was the breaststroke, which he called the “Hudson River Crawl.” He explained he and his mates used it when they would swim in the Hudson off the Manhattan docks. The sweeping motion of the stroke would push the garbage out of the way. He hit the water, fully clothed, and churned his way over to the dock like a motorboat, and hauled his son’s sorry ass out of the lake.
His clothes, hat and shoes hung on the drying line for the rest of the day, a sheepish reminder to me to look in the direction I was walking, especially around water.
We upgraded vacation-wise, over the years. Mom and dad were determined us kids would see the country, so our family mounted an all out assault on the American west. Dad built a box, painted blue, a 1950’s, thoroughly non-aerodynamic version of the present day Thule cargo carriers, and bolted it atop our Plymouth Belvedere, or Oldsmobile F-85 station wagon. We bought a couple tents, and headed for places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park.
Dad had only two weeks off, and year after year he spent them behind the wheel. He was an amazing, driving machine. My mother would make lettuce sandwiches, slathered in mayonnaise, on white bread, which would get soggy and delicious in the heat and humidity of the car. Dad would munch on these, smoke Camels, and just drive from campsite to campsite. I suspect he drove with such purpose because there was a measure of peace there for him. There was no air conditioning in the car, and the roar of hot wind as we made our way through the roasting, endless fields of Kansas in August may have presented him with a white noise respite from, well, everything. That, and the promise of a six pack of Schaeffer beer, which would be the first thing opened at the campsite after the tents.
Rosemary and Kathy would be in the backseat, managing our dog’s drool, and I would sit in front next to mom, who used my left leg as a squeeze toy every time Dad would pass a truck at what she considered was an ill advised speed. Which was often. He never really listened to anyone, no matter how well meaning or shrill, when he was behind the wheel. He was the captain of that big boat of a car, and it was definitely talk to the hand time. Which of course made my mom even more bat shit crazy than she ordinarily was.
And then, uncomplainingly, he would go back to work. He would pick up his banged up briefcase, don his suit and a fedora, get on a train, and go back at it. (A hat was just part of the uniform. He felt it unprofessional to not wear one. During the summer, he would sport a straw boater for his commute.) His work animated his life, and gave him purpose. It also consumed him, at the same time it gave him a reason to live. Even in the days of his sickness, bald, his body riddled with various cancers and the almost equally vicious effects of the chemotherapy of that era, he got on a train. As he liked to say, he just wanted to “keep an oar in the water.”
He was a happy warrior of his day. He came out of the service, got a job and a family, and figured if he worked hard, everything else would get solved. I’m glad I have that old briefcase of his, hanging on my wall. It was part of his armor, a shield he wielded just as gallantly as the heroes of yore in the battles of legend.
The more the working world evolved, and grew steeped in paperwork and the complex pursuit of profits, the more it disappointed him. His advice to me was to “hang out your own shingle.”
I did that. Just like his briefcase, it’s pretty battered, but it’s still on the door. Thanks, dad.
Back in the day, when us photo folks toiled away in blessed obscurity, off in the corner of the corporate picture, there were characters. Jim Kenney, the picture editor of Newsweek, was certainly one of these.
To be sure, just like today, the accountants and honchos of that time would continuously fume at this dark art of picture making, wondering why it was necessary, and further, why it cost any money at all, but, blessedly, they didn’t understand it. And, like a child who’s gotten a toy for Christmas they couldn’t really get the hang of, they would poke at it occasionally, look at it from all sides, then realize they couldn’t find the on-off switch, get bored, and drop it back in the jumble of the toy chest along with other misunderstood and forgotten gizmos.
This was a blessing. The lack of intense corporate scrutiny back then allowed for all manner of risk taking and outright shenanigans in the magazine picture game, and a blustery original like Jim Kenney could flourish, to the benefit of us all.
Of course, the accountants shouldn’t have worried, really. None of us were making any money. Magazine assignments back then were rated at 250 bucks a pop, usually attended by limited expenses. But, as opposed to today, when budget boogeymen have choked off the assignment spigot, magazine jobs were readily had. Especially at places like Time and Newsweek, which were magazines that maintained competitive journalistic mandates to cover many more things than they could possibly publish. The phone rang aplenty, and jobs would seemingly drop from the trees. You would shoot the gig, drop off the film, and pray your slides would hit ink. Then, when the mag was off the stands a week later, you would drop off the pix at your agent, who would try to sell them to someone else. No contracts really existed. It was all just handshake deals. I would always get energized by a call from Newsweek photo. I got assigned all over the lot, from Popes and politics to actors and moguls to characters at Disney.
As a shooter, you could do what was referred to as “the 50th St. shuffle,” as Time was located at 50th and Sixth, and Newsweek was over at 50th and Madison. There wasn’t overwhelming security at the buildings, so you could always find somebody to buzz you up, and you could grab coffee and hang out in a picture editor’s cubicle, hoping they would get so exasperated with your lunatic picture proposals they would give you a day rate to go shoot something just to get rid of you.
Picture agencies did the same shuffle, too, toting packages of slides back and forth to the newsweeklies, hoping to entice interest in a photog’s enterprise take of this or that. The big Paris based agencies, Sygma and Gamma, would emblazon their offerings with exclamatory stamps that screamed, “EXCLUSIF! MONDIAL!” Then they would go crosstown to sell basically the same set of slides to the competition. Some of the agents had, well, let’s call it a broad definition of the word, “exclusif!”
Two giants were astride all this mayhem, John Durniak at Time and Jim Kenney over at Newsweek. Newsweek was always the budgetarily disadvantaged of the two. Jim Colton who, over in his estimable blog, wrote about Kenney last week, always said that “Time was a hospital, and Newsweek was a MASH unit.” But being Avis to Time’s Hertz made Newsweek a formidably scrappy competitor, whose nimble picture troops would routinely outfox their bigger adversary.
My earliest adventures in the news game, as limited as they were, came at the behest of Jim, and he was great to work for. I spent time in Northern Ireland for Newsweek, during the troubles, and when things got calm, I dropped down to London and called Kenney to tell him of the move. I remember the conversation. He closed with saying, “If things heat up again, shag back in there and I’ll cover you.” With Kenney, you always knew he had your back, out in the field. It was a good feeling.
He was a competitor in the best sense of the word. During the JP II’s first papal trip to his home country of Poland, we were a Newsweek crew of maybe eight or nine to Time’s fourteen or so. Thing was, no matter how many people any pub could muster, nobody in the photo press corps really had the inside track. That belonged to the papal photographers. All of us would be a flyspeck with a huge lens out in a crowd of a million or so Poles, viewing the Pope in miniature despite all the glass we had jammed onto our cameras. The papal shooters, such as Arturo Mari, would be there with him on the altar using a 20mm lens, fer chrissakes. Kenney would rail about this lack of access, and referred to the papal photogs, always clad in a black suit, a white shirt, and a black tie, as “the fucking penguins.”
He was an original, larger than life. He was a great editor, at a great time in magazine journalism. And, he was also a good guy to sit and have a beer with when things finally calmed down after a Friday night close. He had a nose for news and a swashbuckling knowledge of what it really took to get good pictures of the news.
Rest in peace, Jim. But then, there’s a part of me that hopes not. It’s fun to think he might be up there in the great beyond with his intercom phone, barking at some lost soul in accounting who’s wondering why a first look at Sygma’s output on the royal wedding was gonna cost 30g’s.
I have always liked getting my camera into a different place, so it was no surprise to me that I loved a long ago assignment underneath New York City. I have often climbed something for a unique view, but this time, I went way, way down.